Monday, September 24, 2012

Stories My Father Told Me

"The longer I live, the more I realize that each one is only unto himself... Sometimes I shudder to see how lonely is a man in the universe. Only the noise, the tumult and the constant competition make him overlook this realization. The condition of the artist is immeasurably superior. The joy of inspiration puts his feeling of loneliness at a remote distance, and he imagines that life shall never end. But to create is possible only when a man can trust that he creates for someone or for some thing, that he is not surrounded by lies, and that he is not building upon a deceptive foundation."

These were my father's words to me on-tape, which he sent me when I moved to New York. For some reason, every time I listen they remind my of a time in my childhood: I remember him reading poems for me in languages I could not even understand. He would recite a few verses in Russian, stop, translate them for me on the fly, and continue with the next verse. By some trick, the images appeared before my eyes even before they words were decoded. His voice was grand with pathos. The pages would turn, each one a mystery, each one scribed in symbols I could not decipher on my own.

Of all the poems he used to read for me, there was one I was particularly drawn to: The Song of Oleg,
 written by Alexander Pushkin (the Russian poet whose career had come to an end in a duel, at the height of his genius.)

Oleg, the tale went, was a Russian prince who valued one thing above all his fine possessions: His horse. It was an exquisite animal and he simply adored it. More than that, there was a strong bond between them. But one day, an old prophet came to the prince and lifted the veil of the future for him. “O Prince,” he said, “it is from the steed which you love and on which you ride that you shall meet your death.”

His life was at stake, so Oleg felt compelled to make a painful sacrifice. He determined never to mount this horse or even to look upon it again. So he gave a command that the horse should be properly fed and taken care of, but never again should it be led into his presence.

Years passed, until one day he heard that the horse had died. “Soothsayers tell lies,” he said bitterly. “Their words are naught but falsehood. My horse is dead, but I am still alive.”

The prince rode to the place where the bare bones lay upon the earth. He dismounted, and remarked with a laugh: “Am I to receive my death from this skull?” Then he stood there, lost in abandon, reflecting on all those wasted years during which he and this beautiful being could have been close. Meanwhile, slithering out of the hollow of the skull, a snake crawled forth and with a single spurt, stung him to death. 


This image of the snake crawling forth to lay its claim upon the victim (who knows his fate and yet denies it) is still with me. This is, perhaps, the reason I hinted at it in a detail you can find at the bottom of my charcoal drawing, The Place Where I Played. Waiting there for me is the snake, ready to sting when while I am idling, yearning for what is gone, yearning for what I wish to have happened.

Such is the venom hidden in the gap between memory and reality.

2 comments:

  1. Gripping images, in words as in the charcoal drawing. Uvi Poznanski is a gifted artist. A true artist expresses himself/herself through any medium. Poznanski is a master of her craft.

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    1. Aw... Thank you so much Skadi Winter!
      And I love reading your book, HEXE!

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